Hilltromper Reboots for Fun in the Santa Cruz Mountains, etc.

The resurrected online guide aims to help people explore the great outdoors

PUBLISHED DEC 13, 2023 8:22 A.M.
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Mike Kahn, Hilltromper's managing director, doing volunteer trail work with Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship at San Vicente Redwoods.

Mike Kahn, Hilltromper's managing director, doing volunteer trail work with Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship at San Vicente Redwoods.   Charlene Lee

In a world rife with chaos and drama, it’s possible to forget just how cleansing and rejuvenating a simple hike in the woods can be. Or a bicycle ride along a winding mountain trail. Or a dip in a scenic swimming hole. Gazing at a waterfall or catching a wave and riding it to shore. Getting outdoors and letting Mother Nature work her magic is an amazing way to improve your overall wellness and untether from the emails, newsfeeds and endless, mind-numbing scrolling. 

That’s one of the driving ideas behind Hilltromper, a resurrected online guide to help people explore the outdoors and connect with others. The online resource currently serves Santa Cruz County—one of the top outdoor destinations in the country—as well as Silicon Valley, which, while best known as a technology hub, is an outdoor oasis, surrounded by dozens of world-class parks and recreational opportunities.

Hilltromper is the brainchild of Traci Hukill and Eric Johnson. The two are both longtime journalists, editors and marketing professionals who bonded over their love of nature. For years, while working for a number of news organizations in the  Monterey Bay area and South Bay, the couple kicked around the idea of starting some kind of publication to highlight California’s many outdoor resources, along with information about the intersection of science, politics and conservation.  

Finally, in 2013, they decided to pull the trigger and launched Hilltromper—a name Hukill came up with while hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Over time the fledgling website garnered a loyal following, with thousands looking to the site for guidance on where and how to enjoy the region’s many natural attractions.  

The website continued to gain traction, but in 2017, Hukill and Johnson moved to Sacramento and Hilltromper went largely dormant. They often thought about resurrecting the site, but the timing was never right, as they both had busy schedules. Johnson now serves as the editorial director of California Local, and Hukill works as a marketing specialist in alternative energy and advanced transportation with the California State Treasurer’s Office. 

Everything changed recently when they reconnected with Mike Kahn, a Pacifica-based communications and marketing consultant and entrepreneur whose career has long focused on environmental issues and conservation.

The three friends first crossed paths when Kahn was working as communications and outreach manager at Sempervirens Fund, the oldest land trust in California, which protects the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Sempervirens Fund was one of Hilltromper's primary sponsors during its first iteration. 

About a year ago, Kahn approached Johnson and Hukill about Hilltromper lacing up its boots and dusting off its wings again. And with that, they were off and running, with Kahn serving as managing director.  This summer he relaunched Hilltromper, which is designed to serve as a one-stop outdoor recreation guide, with regional information about where to go and what to do outdoors, including biking, surfing, hiking and volunteering. Hilltromper also explores issues like natural history and green living and features a green community guide, blog, and robust calendar with up-to-date outdoor event listings.  

“Most of my career I’ve been at the intersection of environmental issues, communications and digital media,” Kahn says. “I was really excited about the opportunity to relaunch and grow Hilltromper.” 

Kahn says that looking forward, he’s focused on populating the site with new stories, growing Hilltromper’s audience and connecting with advertisers and sponsors. 

“People already seem really excited,” Kahn says. “There's just so many amazing plants, animals and habitats specific to this region. We want to help people discover the emotional and physical health benefits of connecting to nature and all these wonderful resources.”  

Big picture, Kahn says this appreciation for nature also helps inspire people to do more to protect the planet, through both their daily actions as well as how they vote and the causes they support. 

“There’s an audience that I think has a lot at stake in what we're doing,” he said. “There are also regional and local businesses trying to support the community in a sustainable way. There are so many great crossover opportunities.” 

Hukill said she and her husband are thrilled to see Hilltromper up and running again. “A big factor that first drove Eric and I to start Hilltromper is we felt that the more people could get outside, the happier they would be. There's all kinds of science to back that up now, and it’s something that I think the world needs now more than ever.” 


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